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Never Edit in the Dark and Other Tips

As I mentioned last week, I’m currently in editing mode. Well, not only editing mode… I’m also reading first drafts and making notes for a writing experiment of my own… but that’s a different topic. Since editing is a main priority right now, it seems a natural time to pick up on last week’s theme and provide a few practical tips.

First, how an editor approaches a manuscript is crucial. I learned early on never to edit in the dark. I don’t mean the ‘lights out’ kind of dark; I mean that you can’t begin to edit a book until you’ve read it through from first page to last at least once. You need to be able to see and have a feel for the entire story –– both its content and its rhythm –– before you put even one mark on the page.

I also learned early on never to edit in red ink, or any color ink for that matter. Ink can’t easily be erased, and the question or comment on one page may well be answered or irrelevant by the time you reach the next. Comments, written in ink and scratched out, are unnecessary scars. Better to be able to gently erase them.

And finally, if you come from the world of journalism, you’re accustomed to using style, and caps and spelling guides, and you know how valuable they are. I still have my first CP (Canadian Press) Caps and Spelling guide tucked in a box somewhere –– even though it’s long out of date, it has a strange kind of sentimental value.

The reason I mention it here is that while a dictionary is essential (we’ve settled on the New Oxford American), when editing books, and especially series, there’ll be times you need to customize capitalization, etc. Compile these ‘rules’ into a combined style-caps-spelling guide for the book or series and you’ll have a very helpful resource that saves time and helps ensure consistency.